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Bill's Blog

Bill McLeod is our branch Patron with years of hunting and shooting experience, including representing some of the biggest firearms manufacturers in the business.  During his career he has come across almost every kind of problem a shooter can have.  In the series of posts below he offers some insights, comments and advice to shooters and hunters.

Thanks Bill.

  • 18/09/2020 3:30 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

                I was lucky enough to have worked for two rifle importing companies. One of my responsibilities was to test and report on rifles that had been returned from the customer for lack of accuracy. One of the tests carried out before the rifle was test fired was to visually inspect the rifle for any noticeable flaws. I can recall finding a very few with splits in the recoil abutment area in laminated and synthetic stocks. There were a couple of rifles with fibre glass stocks with thin spongy areas on the outside of the stock which were unacceptable but were not the cause of accuracy problems. Being short sighted, l could focus on the bore of a rifle barrel to check for defects. I could see defects which other people simply could not see. We didn’t have a bore scope in those days.  Chatter marks, rotary scratches, pitting and rifling deformation were observed. A batch of rifles turned up with chatter marks down the bore so noticeable that it looked like crocodile skin scales to my eye. You could feel the chatter marks as you put a cleaning rod down the bore. I went crook at the international sales manager, a real nice bloke, who said “ Bill, how do they shoot” I said “Fine”, so he said “What’s your problem then?”.  He was quite right of course; the objective of making a rifle was reliable function and appropriate accuracy which these rifles delivered. I pulled my head in. 

                While working on Remington rifles I can recall finding only four which failed accuracy standards. One was the first Model Seven in 260 calibre which we received. It was due to go for test fire. I was tasked with ensuring rifles were properly set up, scoped, screws properly tightened, and zeroed so that the journalist did not have to dick around. The rifle could not keep all the shots on an A4 page at one hundred. We abruptly changed the test fire for another rifle and looked at why the rifle wouldn’t shoot. Steve slugged the bore and found the diameter was .2649 (inches); within spec but definitely top end. The bullets miked at .263.  No wonder it didn’t shoot. Production rifles did not show this problem. We kept that rifle as a “loaner”, it racked up a significant tally of deer in the hands of all sorts of hunters some of whom commented on its accuracy.

                We had another rifle which had a bore diameter way too fat at the muzzle, Steve speculated that heat treating had caused this problem. We had a varmint rifle without obvious faults which did not deliver adequate accuracy, within spec but not up to the rifles reported accuracy potential. 

    My own 7Mag had an unusual fault. It was a seriously accurate and effective rifle which I used a lot. One day, having access to a reverse electroplating bore cleaning system, I hooked up the 7 mil after cleaning it thoroughly. The charge flowed which I didn’t expect as it would only do so in the presence of copper. And it kept flowing. Much longer than I’d experienced with other rifles. When the light finally went out I took the rod out of the bore and saw a strip of copper exactly the width of a land and about three inches long stuck to the rod. It was situated about half way down the barrel. Clearly there was a segment of rifling missing which had filled up with copper. My rifle shot fine.

                While working on Sako and Tikka rifles I don’t recall seeing any flaws in their barrels.

  • 13/09/2020 7:15 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

               I totally misjudged the time it would take to make it onto the top of the range. It had been raining all morning but it cleared about midday. I decided to drop over the big leading ridge our bivvy was on then climb the next big leader up to the top of the range. The bush went up to the top on this ridge so it should be feasible. Not like the section of range overlooking our ridge which was all bluffs and cliffs.

                The only way down was a very tricky pathway marked by Venetian blind strips. I made it through the deep gully south of camp and climbed onto the leader. This took a lot longer than I thought it would and I made a classic mistake. Your turnaround time in your hunt should leave you enough time to get back to camp before dark. Looking at the gully I’d just clawed my way through I decided that it would be better to climb to the top of the range, make it along to our path through the bluffs and back to camp. The ridge seemed to go on forever but I finally made it to the top and really put the pace on. With some relief I found one of our track markers but by this time it was dark. Too dark to see track markers, just shapes of trees and bushes. Feeling my way along gingerly I found what I thought was our path and started to descend. My pace was desperately slow now. Still feeling my way I fell down a small waterfall. Clearly I was off the right track but I continued feeling my way down. Then I stepped into nothing. Crashed into a pool at the foot of a waterfall. Crawled to my knees still in the water. Felt my face and confirmed I had lost my glasses. Still on my hands and knees I felt around the bottom of the pool and couldn’t believe my luck when I found them. Put them back on and got out of the pool.

                Clearly it was dangerous to continue so I felt my way out onto the bank. Just a glimmer of moonlight broke through at this point so I saw a lot of bracken fern. Finding a flat piece of ground, I cut as much bracken as I could and made a mattress. I had a survival sheet with me so I wrapped up in that and pulled as much bracken as I could over me. The patch of moonlight was short lived and it got very dark.  I think there were some snow flurries sweeping through. I had my swannie but only a pair of shorts on. It was so cold. The night seemed endless. Eventually there was a lightening of the sky in the east and thank goodness it was fine. As soon as I could see I started out for camp.

                I soon saw that I had made a mistake by dropping off the correct path and going into a gully north of where I should have been. I made my way down the ridge and back to camp. A cup of tea and a feed and a thaw out was very welcome. The night out didn’t put me off at all. If anything it gave me confidence that I could make a blue, think it out and come up with a good plan. But,  I will go out of my way to avoid going down bluffs at night.

  • 27/08/2020 1:57 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    I was privileged to have worked for Charlie Whiting. My first stint as a hunter for the Forest Service was marked by the prevailing attitude of our field officers that we were useless hunters, unfit, hopeless around camp, not a patch on the good hunters that they were, couldn’t cook, nothing compared to the legendary hunters who they worked with and , really, very lucky to have a job. The job was great though, and mates I worked with are still lifelong mates.

    Moving south, I called in to Rotorua where  Harry Vipond said if you worked in the Kaimais for that fellow you must be worth a try so he sent me to Wairoa to meet Charlie. It was a revelation that a field officer could be a really good bloke. He took me into the southern Urewera where I really enjoyed my hunting. There he gave me the first bit of advice which has stuck with me always. He said the good hunter is the bloke who knows the bush, the botany, the bird life, the geology, the hydrology, and the animals. Absolutely wanting to be a good hunter, I carried text books into the bush. I carried Lang and Blackwell into the Urewera,, the damp bending up all the pages. I couldn’t understand a word they had written. I had learned what I did know by taking one species a day and seeing how many I could find during that day. It was enough to impress the other hunters but it wasn’t till I found J T Salmon that I finally was able to learn properly.  These studies have given me a wider appreciation and enjoyment of the bush and mountain and , I believe, helped in my hunting success.

    The next piece of advice from Charlie was when we were in Ruatahuna when he was sending me in with an airdrop into Hanamahi.  He said “ you know , Bill, the bloke who gets the most tails does the most work. Forget all this business of being a natural hunter, best vision, stalks like a shadow, super crafty at working out deer habits. It’s much simpler than that. The number of tails you get directly relates to how much work you’ve done.” 

    I’ve found that these pearls of wisdom were spot on. Years later I was at a Deercullers reunion and discussing these points with Murray Potter , an old mate who had worked closely with Charlie for  years. Murray’s larconic comment was that Charlie was always quietly giving helpful hints.

  • 27/08/2020 1:49 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    Seems I’m still on the cattle theme.
    Doug and I were fishing up in Arnhem Land and loving every minute of it. While working in Australia years before all you would hear about was fishing for Barramundi. The Aussies really rated the Barra as a sport fish. Finally I had the chance to go. The fishing was brilliant both in the billabongs and out into the Arafut sea. What I didn’t anticipate was the variety of fish species targeted, how much fun it is to lure a cobia out from under the wing of a manta ray or having a bronze whaler broach fully out of the water within a metre of your elbow when you are in a six metre open boat.
    The guides were excellent, Mike wouldn’t hesitate to call you a dickhead, put his elbow in front of your face and show you how to catch a fish. He said  one day why didn’t you blokes go for a buff, we said we,d tried but the company said No.
    Typical Aussie, he said f—- em, I’ll take you. Next day he’d squared it with the company, that night we were hunting. Met his local mates who had two Ruger 308s, the flat deck cruiser and the spotlights. When in Oz do as the locals do. We found a small mob of buff but nothing presented a shot. Ages later found a lone bull out in a swamp. The order was given to fire. The specially prepared monolithic ammo didn’t chamber in my rifle so a quick swap to ordinary soft points. The bull started to move off.  Doug and I fired simultaneously and the bull went down.  I could see that it was not finished so fired again. This clearly wasn’t going to work so I jumped off the cruiser and waded out through the swampy reeds using the beam off the spotlight which the local still on the cruiser was directing at the buff. Each time the bull put its head up or tried to get to his feet I would fire a shot into its neck.  About halfway out to the bull I thought this is ridiculous, wading through a swamp which could have crocodiles lurking, shooting at a wounded bull with an ineffective rifle and trying to see in the patchy light of a spotlight that I wasn’t even holding onto. All I could think was You started it, you finish it. So I kept going till I was right next to the bull. The last shot was down his ear hole. Then he lay quiet.  Made my way back to the cruiser where everybody was happy it was resolved.
    In the morning we butchered the bull for dog tucker. Arnhemland was an amazing place to hunt and fish.

  • 14/07/2020 10:32 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)
    The editor of the magazine of the New Zealand Deercullers' Association I belong to asked for memories of incidents at any of the malthoid bivvies which were built in a few places in the Urewera Country.

    The Newsletter is now unfortunately filled with obituaries but from time to time would-be Barry Crumps put pen to paper or more probably knuckle to key board.

    Here is one I sent in long ago

    Subject: Malthoid huts

    Hi Allison
    Just a memory of Urewera malthiod huts.
    Charlie Whiting took me in to Mangatoatoa malthoid to meet the three other hunters on the block. Spent the night then in the morning he said we were to split up into two parties, one for Mangatoatoa, the other for Otaunoa bivvy.
    The other two blokes didn’t look keen on going anywhere so I said I’d go with Kelson  to Otaunoa. Kelson wasn,t going to take pity on a bloke fresh off a bulldozer in West Australia so hours later I crawled in the bivvy on my hands and knees. Literally.
    Cleaned up the camp, got rid of the possum shit, had a feed and collapsed onto the punga log bunk just on dark.
    Very shortly after I heard a possum right outside the end of the hut. Got the 222, went outside, no possum. Back to bed, getting off to sleep, heard the possum scratching again. Outside, no possum. This has got to be the quickest possum in the Urewera to scarper that fast. Just as I was about to get into the scratcher again I noticed some blurring on the frosted condensation on the malthiod right by where my swanny pillow was. Couldn’t be. Couldn’t be anything else. Couldn’t use a rifle inside the hut.
    Picked up a piece of firewood and sat on the other end of the bunk. Just enough glow of the fire to see a bit.
    Ever so slowly moving saw a pair of ears appear behind my pillow. Ever so slow saw a possums head appear.  It peered around, clearly saw me, and kept very still for some time. Then it crawled out, over my pillow, and ever so slow moved down the bunk. Ever so fast clobbered it with the firewood.
    Outside with the carcass, back into the scratcher, thank goodness for some sleep.

  • 06/06/2020 6:55 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    In the morning we set out to muster in the Te Huka catchment near Tom Bowling Bay.  From the pa site overlooking the western end of the bay we could see a big bull tucked up at the end of a finger of kikuyu grass well up in the tea tree. Before we could really assess a plan the dogs pushed a cow down onto the beach. Instead of stopping like they normally did , this one swam out through the surf to beyond the breakers with the dogs still in hot pursuit . They proceeded to have a battle well out to sea. The dogs eventually tired of this and swam ashore. The cow just kept swimming further and further out.  We mustered a different catchment that day. On our return in the afternoon I had a quick look for the cow. No sign. I had a pair of binoculars with me so just for shits and giggles gave the horizon a sweep. Couldn’t be. It sure was. Unmistakably a cow kilometres out to sea, looked like she was almost to the Three Kings. The bull was still on the same tongue of grass so Uncle Nuc said to get him in the morning. Nuc detailed his son in law, Jason to give me a hand.

                We set out early and the first thing we encountered was that same cow on the beach near Kurahaupo  looking a bit bedraggled now. Left her to the other musterers and made our way to the tongue of grass. Jason’s horse was not used to some of this work. He was a little bit diffident about getting near the bull. Maybe mindful of a neighbour who had just had his arm broken up near the shoulder during another muster down near Whangārei. They had had a horse killed on the same muster; a cow’s horn had penetrated its abdomen and it couldn’t be saved. I left my horse with Jason some distance away from the bull and made my way in on foot. The bull spotted me so I made the shot. It didn’t feel right. The bull crashed down to the left and out of sight. Didn’t look right. I was too chicken to go in on him. A bit spooked. Backed off carefully to my horse and spurred out of there. I still had to resolve the situation so made a plan to make my way to a bit of high ground immediately behind where the bull was standing.  Real cautious, made my way onto the bluff . Spotted the bull straight away. He was lying in a little watercourse facing away from me. Maybe no problem. Then I saw his ribs moving. Dead animals don’t breathe. I was trying to get a clean bead on his head when he staggered to his feet and lurched forward still facing away. Lined up the head and made the shot. I distinctly saw something fly off his head but he did not go down. Held the next shot very carefully. He collapsed instantly. Saw the spasm indicating he was finished. Made my way back to Jason and hopped back on my horse. Rode back up the tongue of grass ready to spur out of there if anything went wrong but it was all over.

                I autopsied the head area to find out what went wrong. The first shot was just too far right. It had taken the skull but travelled outside the bone to lodge in the upper neck.  The next shot had cut his horn clean off striking at the junction of the boss and the skull. The horn was what I had seen flying off. Uncle Nuc had detailed Jason to fetch a tractor so I continued with the muster.

                This was a case of shooter malfunction and this was far from the only case of shooter malfunction I had while I was working.

  • 12/05/2020 8:01 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

                We’d put in a brutal hard day and finally had a nice mob of cattle bunched at the end of Whareana Beach on North Cape. There were nine beasts, cows and younger animals but amongst them was a seriously big steer. These animals had been pushed down to the beach through very heavy tea tree, encouraged to move by the dogs and horsemen. We had four musterers. Uncle Nuc, (the owner of the cattle), Uncle Gary, (the manager of Te Paki), Chris, (his brother), and me. One of my jobs on the muster was to be the shooter. Uncle Nuc used to do it using his old 303 called Lightning because it never hit the same place twice. He was very pleased to give me the job because the last bull he had shot took 14 shots before it went down. I kept my rifle in a scabbard tied to a D by the pommel on my saddle and to a loop on the girth down at stirrup level.

               This was the only way I could keep the rifle , saddle and myself on the horse when we were punching through the heavy tea tree. Sometimes you would actually be lying on the horse’s back getting between trees. I could grab the rifle stock and jam it against the horse to keep from having it torn off. On this job we got off our horses when climbing back up the hills just to spell them so they could last the day.

                We’d got the mob contained on the beach using pressure from the horsemen and dogs but everyone was shagged; musterers, horses and dogs. We started the push along a bit of a dozer track toward the distant holding paddock. Got to the top of the hill ready to go along the ridge when the big steer decided he’d had enough of this nonsense and just ploughed straight through the dogs, horses and men into the next bush choked catchment. The cows and youngsters followed him. We could do nothing to stop them. Bit dejected at camp that night. From a good tally to nothing.

                Several days later I saw the steer again. I was with Nuc  and Gary on the Landcruiser looking at more territory to the south when we saw the big steer by himself just off the track. Nuc said shoot him. The tea tree was not too high but I needed some elevation to get over it so I shot from off the tray of the ute. Looked for the dish on the forehead, made the shot, the steer went down out of sight. Cycled the bolt. In my peripheral vision I noticed that no empty case came out. No case on the ground.  Looked into the breach and clearly saw the head of the case in the chamber. Not good. Shot felt good but couldn’t see the steer. Jammed rifle. Bit anxious, pushed the bolt back and forward quite a number of times. Finally I felt and saw the case come out. Reloaded and went to check the animal. He was dead. Very relieved. Went back to the Cruiser and looked for the case. Found it and examined it. The extraction groove cutter had misaligned and cut the groove so the rim was about twice as thick as normal. The only time I had a cartridge malfunction while I was working and it happened at one of the trickiest moments. Got through it and the steer roasts tasted good.

  • 03/05/2020 4:15 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    by Bill McLeod, 3 May 2020

    Got back into camp late in the afternoon, opened the bolt of my rifle and it came out in my hand. Gives you a bit of a surprise when that happens. What the !!!.
    How did that happen?  I know. Must have put the bolt guide around the wrong side of the bolt when I put it together. That will prevent the bolt stop properly engaging the bolt lug and the bolt will come out. Seen it happen. Never mind, just put the guide back in the right place and she’ll be sweet. But the guide was in the right place. Tried cycling the bolt. It still came out. Must have some debris in the bolt stop. Took the rifle stock off, no debris. Saw a broken bolt stop spring, just a little coil wire spring but definitely broken.

    We were working out of the Otaunoa bivvy in the southern Urewera, it would take the better part of a week to get to Mangatoatoa, radio Charlie in Wairoa, get out to the station, get to Gisborne, get the bit, then reverse the process. That would give Kelson a chance to catch up to me in the race for the number of tails. Couldn’t have that. Could use the rifle being ultra careful not to pull the bolt back too far. Have to do.
    Raining the next morning so time to think it out.

    We had a file so I made a tiny screw driver to take the screws out of the bolt stop housing and removed the broken spring. Serious shortage of springs in the Urewera. Must be something compressible and resilient. Lightbulb moment. Cut a chunk off the tongue of my Buller gum boot and painstakingly cut it to size. Looked good, worked good. Reassembled the rifle and back to work. The repair lasted so well that it was months later that I bothered to get the proper replacement.

    That was the only occasion that a genuine rifle fault caused me any grief in the bush

  • 02/03/2020 10:31 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

     From Bill, 2 Feb 2020.

               Kit and I were summoned by our boss to move north to the Puketi, Omahuta, and Waipoua Forests. The objective was to shoot as many of the remnants of the feral cattle herds living in these forests as we could. Local stockmen had been asked to round up as many as possible using dogs and horses.  This was the only muster method feasible in this steep, thickly vegetated country. The remnants were mainly mature bulls - seriously time consuming for conventional muster techniques and seriously dangerous for horses and stockmen -  which I was to find out years later while mustering on North Cape. We were there to shoot these bulls.

                Our first encounter was a complete disaster. Greg, Kit and I found a big old bull in the Waipapa. I’d come off a deer block; Kit and Greg out of the King Country. We all had confidence in our little guns. This was totally misplaced. I can still see the bull busting out of the thick veg, crashing through the river leaving a spray like a jet sprint boat, with the dogs encouraging it. I gave it a mag full of 222s aiming for the lungs, Kit admitted later he used 20 rounds of 222.  Greg fired his last shot down the poor bulls ear hole when it was stuck in a tomo after he’d fired 40 rounds. This was clearly not acceptable. We changed to heavier rifles, Kit a 303, I used my trusty 308.

                Greg moved back to the King Country leaving Kit and l to do the hunting. Kit was a beef cocky from Raglan; he knew the power and danger of these bulls. He refused, quite rightly in hindsight, to go in on the bulls when the dogs bailed them in thick cover. Me, being stupid, loved it. Our dogs would start a fight with the bull, usually solitary, in the kauri grass. To say the bulls bailed was a complete fallacy; they could crash off whenever they chose. The trick was to sneak in and pop them when they were interested in chasing the dogs. I quickly found that only a clean brain shot or an atlas joint neck shot was effective. The closest shot I fired was at about three feet. The bull was galloping down the same tunnel that I was on in the dense kauri grass. He was not charging. He did not know I was there, I just happened to be in his path. Had to jump behind a kauri tree and give him one as he went past. Significant relief when he went down.

                I went to Auckland with the full intent of buying a 458, the only one on the market had just been sold. I had to make do with the 308. It worked but your heart was in your mouth a lot of the time.
    Hunting some spurs along the Waipapa one day I heard a deliberate series of shots from up on the ridge where Kit was working. The shots went on and on.  I made my way up to find Kit looking a bit frayed. There was a dead bull twenty metres in front of him. He showed me where the bull was when he first engaged it, a bit over 100 yards away. He said on getting the first hit the bull started moving toward him and kept on coming. He fired a full magazine from his 303 finishing up at 20 yards. From memory that one was the only one he shot. Sensible.

    The Puketi was our best hunting ground for bulls, Omahuta and Waipoua were much quieter. Years later I hunted and shot bulls and buffalo on North Cape, Raukumaras, Chatham Islands, Northern Territory of Australia and Botswana. I would have loved to have had my 375 for the earlier hunting.

  • 25/09/2019 7:12 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    by Bill McLeod (24 Sep 2019)

    "Magnum rifles are ridiculously powerful, will break your collar bone, give you nosebleeds, significant concussion, and drive you back down the range leaving furrows from your elbows and knees".
    We lapped up this sort of advice.
    Didn’t seem to worry Gordon Ford who shot a lot of deer with his 7x61 Shultz and Larsen. I can still see him carrying out a full size hind from Waitui Trig for what seemed miles.
    Ever curious, I got hold of a Weatherby 300 Mark V made by J P Sauer. Beautiful rifle but too flash to hunt with. Did cop an earful of abuse from Burt Howlett when I used it in an interbranch shoot. A cobber and I had set our gear up on each others position. Burt thought Rod was a great shot.
    Then my first and only significant injury from a magnum. Shooting a friends Weatherby 340 off a concrete topped benchrest while wearing a short sleeved shirt. Took all the skin off both elbows. Last time I’ll do that. My fault. Dumb.
    Used a variety of magnums which I did not own, 7x61, 308 Norma’s, 264, 300 Winchester. They did not inspire me to get one of my own.
    Then I had to try one of the classic magnums, the Remington 700 in 7mm Rem. It was an eye opener for me. Practicing in the field on targets of opportunity such as goats, rabbits, magpies, hares and rocks gave me confidence in the rifle. Used on game I found it excellent.
    Then a couple of Sako WSMs and a Sako 300 Weatherby. I found them to be of sufficient weight to be very controllable. A confidence building session on wallabies taken in difficult circumstances, offhand at challenging ranges in the matagouri up the Hakataramea changed my view a little. You can use them as ordinary hunting rifles. Taking deer off the slips in the Urewera, sika in the bush in the Mangapapa, thar on the Ben Ohau range gave me an appreciation of their capabilities.
    One caveat. During the time I was doing the testing of supposedly inaccurate rifles for Beretta, I found a disproportionate number of Tikka T3 lite rifles in 300 WSM showing up. I got to dread seeing another one. But you have to man up. Every one of those rifles would group in the magic inch at one hundred. Keeping everything under control while doing it demanded concentration.
    Developing a good technique was important and for me repeating the mantra Sight Picture, Trigger Control while doing the shooting helped.
    Magnums kick, they don’t kill you, and when you gain confidence in them they can do a great job.

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